I’m teaching from Andy Stanley’s It’s Personal series in our Sunday morning adult class and Andy was hitting on something pretty profound this week.
It’s Personal is a series for non-Christians who may be seeking to learn more about the faith or for those brand new to the faith trying to figure it out. Andy is walking the audience through the conflict we all have between what might be classified as objections to the faith and following.
I really like how Andy is framing this series because he gives validity to people’s objections. Questions such as “Why is there so much suffering in the world if there is a loving God?” And “How do I know the Bible is actually God’s word and not just the stories of men?” are legitimate. I also like how Andy tells the audience there are answers to these questions but they never will bring you closer to Jesus even if the answers overcome their objections. The reason is simple: our faith is about relationship not knowledge. Even if I can out argue you on any point of theology I will not bring you to Christ that way. You will simply have more information not a relationship. That is so important to understand both as a Christian who wants to bring others to the faith and as a skeptic who thinks information, knowledge and argument is the key to denying Christ.
The piece the struck me from the teaching Sunday was when Andy was relaying a story from scripture about when the Pharisees, who were always trying to trap Jesus, asked him what the greatest command of God was. The Pharisees figured no matter how Jesus answered he’d be wrong because an argument could be made for another more important command. Then Jesus hits them with this in Matthew 22:37-40:
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
That was it. The Pharisees folded unable to respond to such a deep and true answer. Andy notes that the first word Jesus says is the greatest command from God is Love. The command is not Understand the Lord your God with all your mind, it is Love the Lord your God with all your Heart. This is vital to our relationship with God, our faith, and our walk with Christ.
Honestly, I don’t understand the things of God. Luckily I’m not expected to. God Himself tells me in Isaiah 55:8 that His thoughts are not my thoughts and His ways are not my ways. Further we read in scripture where God tells Paul and John not to reveal certain things because they are not to be known to man. But doesn’t part of you think it would be easier if we just knew everything? I get that way every once in a while, but here’s what God revealed to me while I was teaching that class Sunday.
In the Garden of Eden before the fall, Adam and Eve lived in perfect relationship with God and nature. And you know what? They had no knowledge – there was no need for it. They were completely filled in every way with God. Certainly they had intellect, emotion, and will being made in God’s image, just not the kind of knowledge we think about today. But that changed.
Do you remember which tree from which Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat? The tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Ever since those first bites of the forbidden fruit, when our eyes were open to knowledge, mankind has struggled in its relationship with God. We’ve wanted to know and understand God more than we’ve wanted to love God. It became more important to us to be able to explain God than to submit to Him. And when that happened we began to “prove” through our knowledge of science that God didn’t exist instead of realizing that our science was just our feeble attempt of applying our knowledge to understand God’s creation.
God revealed something else to me on Sunday, too! I was thinking about Paul and how frustrated he was in Romans 7 as he admitted that he did the things he hated and didn’t do the things he wanted to do confirming the sin life we all live. I noted to the class that in 2 Corinthians 12:7 Paul doesn’t ask God but pleads with God three times to take a thorn from his flesh – a messenger from Satan he calls it – that torments him. We don’t know what this thorn was; it could have been physical sickness or sin of some sort. But God’s response is what counts. God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
In other words, Paul, I’m not going to give you the answer you want or the knowledge you seek. My grace is sufficient. Simply trust in me and I will be your strength!
As someone who struggles with both physical ailments and sin in my life God’s answer is both discouraging and liberating!
On the one hand I’d like Him to remove the thorn. Even as I write the blog I’m on a new medication for my migraine headaches that is kicking my tail and I honestly don’t even know if this blog is making any sense! It would be so nice to have just a little break on the health front. But on the other hand I am so liberated by knowing that I don’t have to have the answer for everything. I don’t always have to be strong. I’m allowed to be weak because God is going to pick up the slack for me.
Honestly, it’s my pride and ego that wants me to be strong and God to be weak in my life. It is my fallen self that wants to have all the knowledge so I don’t have to rely on God so much. And it’s the exact opposite way God intended our relationship to be. God intended me to rely on Him completely in all things without falling prey to wanting to know anything.
As Andy gets deeper in his series what he’s trying to show his audience is many of the objections people come to Christianity with actually never get resolved, but they don’t need to be resolved once it gets personal. It’s like any friendship – before you are friends with someone there may be all sorts of unresolved issues, but once you are friends those unresolved things melt away because it’s personal.
As a Christian the lesson for me is always make Jesus personal not intellectual. Christianity is not an intellectual pursuit of knowledge, it is a relationship. For those who may not be in the faith but have questions, know your questions are valid but don’t let the pursuit of knowledge blind you to the pursuit of relationship.